Prepping Your Car With Gap Insurance (or Why I Hate Deer)

By J.D. Williams

Commuting to work early in the morning is normally a routine thing that people experience, especially in southeast Michigan, with its clusters of assembly plants. Such was the case for me a few years back, on a morning in October, shortly before deer hunting season began. Up until that day, I hadn’t paid deer season much attention. I am not a hunter, and those days held no real significance to me other than being one of many rites of the greater autumn season.

That all changed as I drove to work early that morning. I was the only car on a dark, lonely highway heading to suburban Detroit. A doe leapt over the median and stopped right in my path, staring me down as if daring me to hit her. I had never been in a “deer in the headlights” situation before, nor had anyone taught me what the proper course of action was in that situation. My first instinct kicked in, and I swerved to avoid it.

That was a bad decision.

My car after the accident.
My car after the accident.

My vehicle quickly spun out of control. I avoided hitting the deer, but I was not able to keep my car from spinning onto the opposite side of the road, where it drove past and onto the brush at the side of the road. In my panic, I tried to slam my foot on the brake and hit the gas pedal instead, sending my car zooming into a tree. According to police reports, it would be another hour before I regained consciousness. I awoke and my first thought was to make my way across the highway to a nearby rest station and use their payphone (I didn’t have a cellphone at the time) to call for help, and at the very least, let my employer know I was going to be late for work. The highway was still empty, and I managed to reach the median before I saw a police car at the scene of the accident. I staggered back over there and told the cop I was the driver in the accident, and I hit the tree while trying to avoid a deer. The police officer immediately sat me down in his squad car and called for an ambulance.

While awaiting the ambulance, he told me “If anyone asks, you hit that deer. Your insurance rates will skyrocket if they think you risked causing another accident to avoid hitting a deer.” After spending the day in the hospital and enduring a battery of tests and an MRI, I was released, with a concussion, a bad case of whiplash, and a nice, new neck brace to wear, along with orders not to do any kind of strenuous work for three months. The job I was working at through a temporary agency terminated my contract, and I was stuck with a hefty medical bill and no income until my insurance company finally paid me for my lost wages.

My neck after the accident.
My neck after the accident.

One of the few silver linings out of this whole ordeal was regarding my now totaled car. When I first financed my vehicle, I was offered a one-time fee for gap insurance, which would pay for my car and cover any difference in my auto debt should the car be damaged beyond repair. Initially I scoffed at the idea. After all, no one buys a car expecting it to be totaled. But I reconsidered my history and the fact that I had been in a few accidents beforehand (as evidenced, I’m not the best driver in the world), so I took the plunge and paid the extra bucks to get the gap insurance.

That was a good decision.

Had I not bought the insurance, I would have still owed upwards of $5,000 for a vehicle that I could no longer drive.

The “gap” in gap insurance is short for “Guaranteed Auto Protection.” It is designed to cover the difference between how much you owe on a car loan and the value of the car when it is totaled. This is important if you are financing a new or used car, because a car depreciates in value over time (even as soon as you drive it off the lot), and you can find yourself in a situation where you owe more than the car is worth. If your car is totaled, your collision insurance will pay you the market value of your car. If you still owe on a loan, there is a good chance that that payment will not be enough to cover your debt. The gap insurance will cover that “gap” between what you’ve paid and what you still owe.

Be sure to buy your gap insurance from your auto insurer and not your dealer, as they can offer you a much more affordable price than your dealership. Also keep in mind that you cannot take the gap insurance policy from your old car and transfer it to your new one. From my own experience I can say that the extra few hundred bucks you’d pay for gap insurance is worth the investment, and is a great way to prepare for the possibility of an accident destroying your car.

One more thing. For the record, I hate deer.

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